The following is information that Theresa C. Chirico (aka tcc) would send to all new owners. She based it on her experience, research and her desire to give the torts as natural of a life style as possible. This information has withstood the test of time and is included here as a starting point. The links have been updated.
BRINGING YOUR NEW TURTLE HOME: If your turtle came from a pet shop, it's likely to be stressed and been on a poor diet. Often they are housed with other species that carry diseases/parasites that they have no immunity to. A vet check right a way is a good precaution. Sulcatas and Leopards have very similar needs but their ultimate size and personality differences prohibit them from being good cage mates. If you don't have an acre or two, its not a wise idea to keep both species. This info will save you heartache later from having to part with one and only keep one species or the other.
ADJUSTING TO YOUR TURTLE AND YOUR TURTLE TO YOU:
When allowing your new tortoise to adjust to its environment, its best to do as little handling as possible. Later offering hand fed treats will help to build trust.
I always leave a shallow dish of water available right in the habitat and if I don't see them drink, often sitting them in their dish is a gentle non stressful reminder. In captivity we deprive them of their natural ability to have the range of temps as in nature and burrowing as sulcatas often do. This combined with babies having a smaller body mass, leaves them more vulnerable to getting dehydrated. Always leave water available to them and soaking a few times a week is a good idea if you haven't seen them drinking. My larger Leopard Tortoises appreciate their sunken pond for bathing and soaking, especially during the warmer months. A shallow pond with sloping sides for easy access and departure is easily constructed using concrete, with wire for reinforcing in a shady area. The depth should be calculated taking the size of your tortoise into account. Water should be changed daily, more often if soiled by food or feces. A drain valve fitted in the base will facilitate easy water changes.
These rapid growing species require as much space as you can give them. Babies do well in a 'tortoise table' kind of set-up. There are plans at this link http://africantortoise.com/tortoise_table.htm It helps to plan ahead with these guys and think *expandable* with any housing setup you choose.. Fish tanks, (especially the ones with tall sides) are unsuitable long term because they tend to lack ventilation and overheat easily. Ideally, housing for these guys should be outside in the sun eating grasses, weeds and soaking up the sun.
Play Sand/loam (coir) mix is by far the best substrate. The amount of moisture can be easily regulated. Also it easy to create a higher moisture/humidity (substrate moisture is more important than humidity) area as well as a dry area in the same pen. This way the tortoise has a choice of micro-climates. Loam is the best choice and is readily available in northern states and the UK. However here in the south its scarce. So I use coconut coir instead. This has work well over the past 15 years for a number of species I keep. Hatchlings also do well on it.
more on substrate
TEMPERATURES IN THEIR HOUSING:
Tortoises require a range of temperatures to be provided for proper thermoregulation. 75ish on the cool side with a bright basking area in the low 90'sis about as close to ideal as you can probably get. Be sure to verify the temps with thermometers on both sides at tort level. As in nature, tortoises require an overnight drop in temps to maintain a healthy immune system. I don't let mine get cooler then 65. Sick or newly acquired animals may be best kept in the 80's overnight to aid in their immune response and combat the stress of adjusting to a new home. Heating pads and hot rocks can be dangerous and shouldn't be relied on as a heat source. Never use a heating pad near heat lamp or other heat sources. In nature overhead heat is absorbed more effectively. Overheating is a danger esp. in smaller quarters when they need the ability to move about to manage their body heat.